THE BLOG
07/06/2015 09:54 am ET Updated Jul 06, 2016

Why Greek Youth Voted 'No'

By Tania Karas

ATHENS - After weeks of uncertainty, Greek voters delivered a swift rejection Sunday night to international creditors' deal terms that shocked the world and could throw the country into deeper financial turmoil.

But for the moment, Greek youth, who voted overwhelmingly in favor of "no," are defiant and hopeful for the future of their generation and their country.

"We are very happy," said 25-year-old Daphni Pantazopoulou, a history and archeology student at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens who came to Syntagma Square with friends to celebrate as vote results trickled in. "Maybe our lives will not be better right away, but it's a new start."

Exactly what "no" means for Greece remains to be seen. Citizens cast their votes on an offer from international creditors that was no longer on the table. And though Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras promised the referendum was merely about rejecting creditors' terms, financial analysts predicted Sunday night that Greece will be forced to leave the eurozone.

But the mood at Syntagma Square was jubilant and defiant. Hours before the final result of 61 percent "no" was announced, thousands of supporters gathered to sing, dance, criticize Germany for "blackmail," and proudly wave the Greek flag.

Twenty-nine-year-old Harry Athanasopoulos, a primary school teacher who came to Syntagma with a friend, said he felt the referendum was largely symbolic.

"Whatever was going to happen would happen regardless of yes or no, because it's just politics," Athanasopoulos said. "But voting signifies if something is right or wrong - and today demonstrates that the plan by the creditors has failed."

Asked to explain their votes, Greek youth supporting "no" often framed their arguments in terms of dignity, pride, and revenge against institutions they blame for stalling their lives.

Athanasopoulos, for example, said he can find only temporary teaching contracts and has spent the past few years moving all around the country to hold down a job. "Most of us are young, unemployed, and suffering," he said of why he and many of his friends have no faith austerity measures would lift Greece out of its economic slump.

Those in favor of "yes," however, evoke the economic chaos they believed will result if Greece is forced out of the eurozone.

Read more from The GroundTruth Project: Millennials overwhelmingly favor 'no' vote

In Exarchia, a central Athens neighborhood known as a center for youth rebellion and anarchy, the walls were smothered in posters reading "Oxi," the Greek word for "no." Block after block of graffiti allude to Greece's dire financial straits. On Sunday, giant painted banners strung across the dusty neighborhood square directed their vitriol at Germany and the International Monetary Fund.

As rumors of the "no" vote began tricking in, 32-year-old Aris Drogosis said that "no" stood for "freedom, democracy and resistance."

"I voted no because Greece can negotiate a better deal," said Drogosis, a mechanical engineer. "And because no is a middle finger to our friend Angela Merkel."

Others in Exarchia were more poetic about what their votes meant to them.

"I voted no because I would rather walk blindfolded toward the unknown than vote 'yes' and walk toward what I know is disaster," said 28-year-old Anny, a graphic designer who, like many in the neighborhood, refused to give her last name.

The referendum exposed deep rifts among Greek society along the lines of age, income and political affiliation. Several young people said they'd been unfriended on Facebook by others who did not share their views.

An opinion poll released Friday showed that 71 percent of those between ages 18 to 24 had planned to vote "no," along with 59 percent of those aged 25 to 34.

Asked to explain the rift within their generation, several young Greeks called it a divide between haves and have-nots: those with secure jobs versus the unemployed or under-employed.

But 26-year-old Athina Polina Dova, founder of startup Owiwi, voted "yes" and said that perception was inaccurate.

"It is not fair to label us all as people who have something to lose, because regardless of the outcome of the referendum, we have all lost," she said. "I speak for a large majority of the population when I say that I support staying within the European Union." The euro, she added, had spread wealth throughout all levels of society, and a "Grexit" would "eradicate any hope of economic growth and employment."

Young voters, whether they voted yes or no, said they are scared for what the coming days, weeks and months will bring.

Indeed, television and radio commercials over the past week painted a portrait of chaos if the country did not vote yes. Greek news media showed extended footage of the long lines at ATMs and empty supermarket shelves and warned of gasoline and medicine shortages ahead.

One young woman, who asked not to be named because she feared for her job at a large corporation, said she voted "no" despite pressure from her boss and co-workers to vote "yes."

Others said they felt pressure from family members who had lived through World War II or the military junta from 1967 to 1974.

Twenty-nine-year-old Christina Moula, who has a master's degree and is unemployed, said despite her family's warnings, she had to vote for what she felt was right for her generation.

"I'm seeing my society dying day by day," she said. But at least after seeing the "no" vote come out on top, "It will pass. It won't get us down."